From Still Days to Dawn – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
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These last three days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, are what the Anglo-Saxon church called the “Still Days.” The Still Days – days of silent mourning, in which all church bells were silent.
Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came, carrying spices, to anoint the body of Jesus. For these women, another Still Day. Like the day when they witnessed their beloved Jesus arrested and tried. The day when they saw his bruised and bloodied body carrying the cross through the taunting crowds along the streets of Jerusalem, and through tearful eyes they saw him die upon the cross. The day when they watched his broken body taken down from the cross and wrapped in a linen cloth and taken to that garden and laid in the rock hewn tomb, and a great stone rolled against the door.
And then the day of Sabbath, when they rested, according to the commandment. Still Days, for prayer and silent mourning.
And then, on the next day, the first day of the week, very early in the morning these women made their way to that garden expecting another Still Day: bereaved, their spirits crushed by the same nails that had pierced his hands and feet, they made their silent way. Their heavy hearts were further weighed down by thoughts of that great stone placed at the entrance to the tomb.
But as they walked, those women crossed a threshold, unawares. They entered a space where God’s energy and glory had just enacted the greatest deed of power in our salvation history. God had just raised Jesus from the dead – and the ‘presence’, the ‘shekinah’ of God was still there, and as they crossed the threshold into the sacred place, they saw and felt things that did not just make them tremble, but filled them with holy terror!
The stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. And as they entered the tomb itself, the very place where Jesus’ body had been lying, they were overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord, and saw a young man dressed in white. “Don’t be frightened,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
Those poor women. When Moses saw God’s glory in the burning bush he hid his face, afraid to look. When the prophet Ezekiel saw the glory, he fell down on his face in terror. When Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, saw Jesus’ face shining like the sun, they fell to the ground, overcome by fear.
And now these three women had entered, unawares, the very place where the greatest of all acts of divine power had just happened. No wonder they were terrified.
As Rowan Williams put it, “When we celebrate Easter, we are really standing in the middle of a second Big Bang – a tumultuous surge of divine energy, as at the very beginning of the Universe.”
The Still Days are over. We are standing now on that same threshold. We are about to pass over into a place where we will be standing, like those women, in the middle of a second Big Bang – a tumultuous surge of divine energy, as at the very beginning of the Universe.
That divine energy raised Jesus Christ from death to life, and that same divine energy courses eternally through the universe, and raises us also – you and me – raises us from death to life. For when we were baptized we were baptized into Jesus – we became one with Jesus. As so the divine energy which raised Jesus to life will raise us to life with Jesus.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (Jn 11:25) “It is my father’s will, that everyone who sees the son, and believes in him may have eternal life. And I will raise them up at the last day.” (Jn 6:39-40)
Like those women, we too have crossed a threshold – here, this morning, this Easter Day. The divine energy, the power of God, which raised Jesus to life, is here now. Do you feel it? We are standing on holy ground. The Risen Lord is here with us NOW. The glory of God is here. If we had any sense, we should all fall on our faces – or run away as fast as we can!
Or, stay here, and allow the Lord to fill us with his life – to feed on him in bread and wine – to praise and glorify him with our bodies and our voices. For this is the day on which the Lord has acted. This is the day on which God with a tumultuous surge of divine energy, raises Jesus to life.
A little while ago we renewed together our baptismal vows. And you’ll remember I threw baptismal water over each of you – with great joy and gusto! I love doing that. If I drenched you, I’m not sorry – the water of baptism is a powerful sign – it is the pledge of life to come. Whenever you feel that water – whenever you put your hand in the font or in the holy water stoup give thanks – give thanks that you have been washed by Christ, and that the God who raised Jesus to life, will also raise you to life. Death – the final enemy has been conquered.
In the words of St. John Chrysostom proclaimed at the Easter Vigil in every Orthodox church:
“Let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free.
Christ is Risen, and the demons have fallen.
Christ is Risen and the angels rejoice.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
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So powerful. Praised be the divine love of God.
Dear Br. Geoffrey:
Thank you for this sermon. You see, like the women at the tomb on Easter Day, the events of the previous week are still with me. Very much so. I am not ready for the exultation of the Sunday. Celebration comes too soon on the heels of sorrow and mourning.
This year a friend’s 61 year old daughter went to bed on Friday night – April 12th. She never woke up. I am still mourning my 99 year old friend’s loss and pain.
I am not ready for Easter day with all of its nowadays hoopla.
Blessins to you and all those involved with SSJE